[Cross posted from the Cardiff Physics Outreach blog]
Artist’s impression of the collision of two neutron stars. Image credit: NSF/LIGO/SSU/A.Simonnet
On 16th October a huge team of astronomers announced to the world that they had detected, for the first time, gravitational waves and light from the same event. That event was the collision of two neutron stars in a galaxy around 130 million light year away. The signal was first detected by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors, and less than two seconds later by the Fermi gamma ray satellite.
The 15th of September marked the Cassini spacecraft’s final plunge into Saturn’s gaseous atmosphere. This grand finale marked then end of a 20 year journey, 13 of which were spent orbiting Saturn, studying the ringed planet and its extended family of moons. Here in Cardiff, Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder has been closely following Cassini, and working with some of its data. This seemed like an ideal time to gather Emily’s thoughts on the remarkable mission. Continue reading →
Earlier this month we were treated to a talk in Cardiff by Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and Professor of Astrophysics at University of Cambridge. This afforded us the opportunity to speak to Professor Rees about the subject of his talk: “The World in 2015 – and beyond”. After discussing the challenges facing the long-term survival of humanity, and possible solutions, we also discussed Lord Rees’ role in the House of Lords, and recent developments in astronomy and cosmology. Continue reading →
At the end of last month, there was a lot of interest in the discovery of seven roughly Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. One month on, Chris North and Edward Gomez discuss the implications of this discovery. We also get an update from the Amaury Triaud, of the University of Cambridge, about TRAPPIST and its successor, SPECULOOS.
Here in our own Solar System, there’s the discovery of a cometary landslide from Rosetta, a milestone in wheel-wear on the Mars Curiosity Rover, and an update on some of Saturn’s darker rings from Japan. Further afield, a study of the rotation of galaxies in the distant Universe came under some scrutiny, shedding a bit of light on the process of scientific discovery.
February saw the first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Rocket from Launchpad 39A – the same launchpad used by the Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle. In this month’s Pythagorean Astronomy, Edward Gomez and Chris North discuss these impressive structures along with the study of a supernova (the explosive death of a massive star) just hours after it exploded, providing crucial insights into the very early stages of these extreme events.
A new Zooniverse project, Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, was also announced designed to let “citizen scientists” (i.e. you!) help track down Planet Nine – whose existence was seriously proposed a year ago. Project leader Marc Kuchner told us about that project.
For those wondering, we recorded this before the announcement of both TRAPPIST-1 and the SpaceX announcement of their planned lunar missions – but they’re pretty safe bets for discussion next month!
Join Chris North and Edward Gomez as they discuss the month’s astronomy news. Not only were there two new NASA missions announced this month, but Space-X successfully returned to flight with their Falcon 9 rocket. Further afield, there are predictions of a pair of stars that are set to explode in a few years.
Being January, the National Museum in Cardiff hosted its annual public event celebrating all things space. With exhibits, demonstrations and shows for all ages, several thousand people attended “Star Attractions” and get to learn a bit more about astronomy and space. While we were there with a stand from the School of Physics and Astronomy, Chris spoke to a few people who were there to find out what they got out of it.
When is a supernova not a supernova? The brightest supernova on record was discovered in 2015 by the All Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN). Named ASASSN-15lh, this remarkable event – what looked like a huge brightening of a star in a distant galaxy – was observed by many other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Las Cumbres Observatory network. With careful study, it became apparent that ASASSN-15lh was not quite what it seemed. Rather than being the explosion of a massive star, it is now thought that it was the final flash as a star was swallowed by a supermassive black hole.
This month, Morgan Fraser, from University College Dublin, and Las Cumbres Observatory’s Edward Gomez explain the story of this discovery – and rediscovery! We finish with a brief recap of 2016, and a look forward to 2017.
Our main guest this month is Dr Natasha Hurley-Walker, based at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at Curtin University. Natasha works on the Murchison Widefield Array, and has produced GLEAM: an all-sky image of the sky at radio wavelengths at very high resolution and in a wide range of radio “colours”, or wavelengths. This gives us a better understanding of some of the most energetic processed taking place in the centres of nearby galaxies, but the end goal is somewhat further afield. Natasha tells me all about the MWA, the GLEAM project, and even how you can view it – on the interactive GLEAMoscope site (or using the GLEAM Android app)
A lot has happened this month – ESA got a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, but sadly lost the Schiaparelli lander, China launched two new taikonauts to their space station, and the Swarm mission uncovered details from Earth depths. Edward Gomez and I discussed these, and more, this month (though before the full nature of the status of the Schiaparelli lander were available).
In other astronomy news, a scientific paper hit the headlines claiming to have worked out how many galaxies there are in the observable Universe. Cardiff colleague Professor Steve Eales told me quite what he thought of this latest result…
This month sees the start of one mission and the end of another. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission launched at the start of the month to go and study asteroid Bennu, and even bring back a sample to Earth.
Meanwhile, the end of the month sees the finale of ESA’s Rosetta mission, which has spent two years studying comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. With stunning images accompanied by fascinating results from other instruments, not to mention the plucky little Philae lander, Rossetta has been one of the most exciting missions of recent years.
This month, the Open University’s Professor Monica Grady tells me about comets, asteroids, and these two exciting missions.